County officials and about 50 of Howard County's elderly residents gathered at the Elkridge Branch Library yesterday to mark the start of construction for a new $300,000 senior citizens center with speeches and officials digging dirt with shiny new shovels.
"People today are living longer," said Louise Waldmann, 73. "It'll be a place where we can get together for our meetings, to learn, to eat together."
The new center, whose construction had been delayed for a year because the initial cost to build the center was more than county officials wanted to spend, will serve a burgeoning elderly community in the eastern corridor of Howard County and Elkridge.
According to officials, that area now has 1,200 seniors, a 20 percent increase from 1980. The center, to be run by the Howard County Office on Aging, will offer classes and various services for seniors.
"Services that are accessible are services that will be used," said C. Vernon Gray, chairman of the Howard County Council.
The senior center has been part of the year-old library's plans from the beginning but had been delayed because county officials were looking for something less expensive than the $500,000 addition proposed by the contractor that built the library, Lozito Contracting Inc. of Baltimore.
A new contractor, North Point Builders, of Baltimore, agreed to build the senior center for $300,000.
The wait was worth it, county officials said.
"It saves us a couple of bucks, it saves you a couple of bucks," said Howard County Council member Darrel Drown, an Ellicott City Republican.
The new center will be built as an addition to the library, but will have a separate entrance.
A kitchen, also to be used as a main meeting room, and several offices will be built.
Manus O'Donnell, director of the Department of Citizen Services, said that someone different will work in one of the offices each week, including counselors or people who can help with insurance forms.
Said Ms. Waldmann: "We think it's wonderful that we have a place to go and do something."